Never use stairs to go up to my altar. Otherwise, people will be able to see under your clothes. - Exodus 20:26
As His people wander the wilderness, God sets some ground rules for worship. He has to; otherwise, human nature would have dictated that we do it all wrong. One of these rules is that His people should never use stairs to go up to the altar.
In other words, God tells them not to place His holy place so high that they would have to raise - or exalt - themselves to get to Him. Otherwise, everyone else will see under their clothes.
Newsflash: Under these clothes....we're all naked.
God's concern here is part modesty, of course. It's just common sense to protect your most intimate areas from public viewing. For everybody's sake. But there's something deeper going on here, too.
Anytime we approach God's altar, a little bit of our nakedness shows. A little bit of our inadequacy, our vulnerability, our shortcoming. We're uncovering our need for God, and the very fact that we need such a God is an admission that somewhere in us is something bare.
Now, if we make a scene about approaching the altar, if we make a spectacle of ourselves getting there, if we set it up so that everyone has to watch as we ascend in holiness to God's special place, we're pretty much broadcasting that nakedness to the world. And as humans, our tendency will be to focus on a man's shame rather than God's glory.
All we'll talk about is this nakedness.
Those of you who follow this blog know that near the end of the last year, I had the opportunity to walk forward in my church, approach the altar of God, join hands with a shepherd, and lay down my heart. It was an incredible moment. One that would not have been the same were it not for the orchestration of the invitation.
There was no stigma in walking that aisle. No broadcast about coming there. Everyone in the congregation was standing, engaged in worship; it would be harder to notice someone walking to the altar. As opposed, of course, to everyone being seated with an open, silent invitation to come. That's awkward.
Because you do think about it. At least, I do. You think about what people are going to say if they see you walking forward. You think about the whispers that must be happening when they see you at the altar. The whispers are all in your head, but you can hardly believe you'd be the only one thinking these things. Surely, everyone is talking about you. Surely, everyone is questioning. Surely, everyone thinks there must be something wrong with you that you would go publicly before God just like that. That you would dare to walk forward.
That's what God was safeguarding against. That's why He said, "Never use stairs." Never make it a production about your coming to Me. Never make it a spectacle. Never make it a thing that you would dare come before your God. Honestly? I can't wait to see you.
Never leave room for the whispers. Never leave doubt in your mind. Never entertain the thought that everyone is looking at you.
And never think you're somehow better than everyone, somehow higher, somehow holier because you would come to Me. The minute you do, everyone will see that you're naked.
Then the focus will be on your shame and not His glory. It is never about your shame.
That is why when we approach the throne of God, when we come to the altar, when we walk up to meet with Him (and we should do such things), we ought to humble ourselves. We ought to bring ourselves low - crawling, clawing, desperate for Him. Quietly thirsting, hungrily still. So that it's not a spectacle. So that it's not a stigma. So that it's not a thing.
It's simply a moment. A holy moment. Not climbing high but brought low.
Then the whispers in the crowd, that thing we're all talking about, has nothing to do with the naked man. The story of the altar is the glory of the Lord.
So go naked. And go low. And for Christ's sake, keep your pants on. Nobody wants to see that.
We have enough under our own tunics.